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Muslim group takes next step in court action against PMO spokesman

OTTAWA - A national Muslim council is proceeding with a lawsuit against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his chief spokesman for allegedly linking the organization to a terrorist group.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims has filed a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court after failing to get an apology from the Prime Minister's Office.

The council is seeking a public retraction, damages of up to $100,000 and a permanent injunction preventing the words from being republished, the statement of claim says.

The claim quotes Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald as saying, "We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.''

That comment to the Sun News Network came last January after the council criticized the inclusion of controversial rabbi Daniel Korobkin in a delegation accompanying Harper to the Middle East.

The council soon filed a notice of libel, the first step in taking legal action.

At the time, Ihsaan Gardee, the council's executive director, denounced MacDonald's remark as "categorically false, offensive and defamatory."

Subsequent discussions between the parties did not resolve the matter, said Jeff Saikaley, a lawyer for the council.

"We did have conversations with the lawyer representing Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald, and we weren't able to reach a satisfactory agreement. So we have no choice but to proceed to the next step," Saikaley said.

"We're still hopeful that something can be done to avoid an actual trial, but for the time being this is what's been required to protect our client's interests."

The council describes itself as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit group that has worked for 14 years on human rights and civil liberties issues on behalf of Canadian Muslims.

The group announced a name change — from CAIR-CAN to the National Council of Canadian Muslims — last July.

The statement of claim says the council has a clear public record of consistently condemning terrorism and has denounced by name terrorist groups such as Hamas, al-Qaida and others. It alleges MacDonald deliberately ignored these facts and chose not to contact the council to verify any information.

MacDonald said Monday he had no comment.

A half-dozen other organizations, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, have offered support to the Muslim group.

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